1. Unbeaten Pacers Owning Up To Big Goals
Herb Simon, the owner of the Indiana Pacers, celebrated his 79th birthday two weeks ago.
He is now the league's second-longest tenured owner, having bought the team in 1983. His brother and co-owner, Mel, died four years ago. David Stern, who has been commissioner for nearly Simon's entire run, is about to retire.
There has been plenty of attention paid to the Brooklyn Nets' $180 million payroll, the Los Angeles Clippers' investment in a $7 million-a-year coach and the Miami Heat's prized collection of free-agents-to-be as the examples of the teams that are going for it all this season. Even New York Knicks owner Jim Dolan, who looks at his aging team's bloated salaries and, reportedly, declared this a championship-or-bust campaign.
But while Simon keeps a low profile, his actions have been clear. He isn't sure how many more chances he's going to get, and he's acting like it. The Pacers may not get the attention of their bigger-market brothers and their salary sheet isn't as gaudy, but they too are shoving the chips in the middle and they have the team to prove it.
Wednesday night the Pacers put their now trademark squeeze on the Chicago Bulls, out-defending and out-rebounding one of the best defenses and best rebounding units in the league. Indy moved to 5-0 with the 97-80 win.
It's the best start in the NBA, and the team's best start Simon has seen in his three decades as owner.
Last summer after the Pacers lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Heat, Simon called up Larry Bird in Florida and coaxed him back to town to run the franchise again after a year away.
Bird had left after winning Executive of the Year in 2012 for several reasons. He said he was tired and he was dealing with some health issues but there was also an impasse over money. Simon had also forced Bird to take a several-million-dollar pay cut the year before and it wasn't much of a secret Bird was unhappy about it.
What Simon did to get Bird to come back remains between them. But the actions speak for themselves. Since agreeing to take his old job back Bird has spent major money and made moves aimed at winning in the immediate future.
He spent $36 million on David West. He spent $12 million to revamp the bench. He traded two younger players on valuable cheap contracts (Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green) plus a coveted first-round pick in the loaded 2014 draft for veteran big man Luis Scola. And he signed Paul George to the biggest contract extension in the history of the franchise.
This is what going for it looks like in Indiana. These are big moves for a team like the Pacers and a historically frugal owner like Simon who already has big-salaried players such as Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger on the roster.
What he's getting for his money is a team that is experienced, deep and hungry, and it has shown in the season's first two weeks.
The Bulls managed just 36 percent shooting on Wednesday and were outrebounded 52-40. Derrick Rose, who now has 55 missed shots and 25 turnovers in five games, was again inefficient. Joakim Noah, who didn't make a basket, is now shooting 27 percent on the season. And Carlos Boozer, who had been one of the Bulls' few early bright spots, managed six measly points in 31 minutes against the Pacers' front.
Hibbert was a menace inside. He blocked five more shots and now has 26 through five games. Last season, Hibbert cursed the media for not paying attention when he finished just 10th in voting for defensive player of the year. Though, it merits mentioning, the league's coaches had him 17th in balloting for the all-defensive team. That mistake won't be made again.
West had 17 points, 13 rebounds and three steals, Scola had 12 points off the bench and George continued his hot start with 21 points. The Pacers executed their game plan despite having two of their top six players -- Granger and starting point guard George Hill -- sidelined with injuries.
It's still too early to discuss trends but the Pacers led the NBA in rebound rate, defensive efficiency and opponents' field goal percentage last season. They're already No. 1 in defensive efficiency and opponents shooting this season (holding them to less than 38 percent so far) and are third in rebounding. In other words, they've picked up where they left off.
Yet with their augmented bench -- which put up 35 points in the win despite the injuries thanks to an unexpected nine points from new addition Donald Sloan -- they are not the same team that fell just short of the NBA Finals.
Bird has said publicly the team will not pay the luxury tax. They have assembled this roster and kept a little less than $2 million under that dangerous threshold. Simon has frequently postured against paying it, being from one of the league's smallest markets.
It's left some to wonder how aggressive they might be in testing the trade market for Granger if it develops over the next few months. In the last year of a deal that pays him $14 million, there would be interested parties but the Pacers would probably have to take on long-term money and that's not something that seems to fit the franchise's preference. With George's $80 million deal starting next season plus valuable guard Lance Stephenson headed for free agency, the Pacers are mindful about their commitments in the future.
But, as the past few months have shown, worries about the balance sheet have taken a step back to worries about the talent. And it has made the Pacers as dangerous as any team in the East.
They've also gotten some help. Ticket sales are up 30 percent. The city is in the process of giving the Pacers more than $40 million over a three-year span as part of a new deal to offset losses from running and upgrading Bankers Life Fieldhouse. And, according to a league source, the Pacers are projected to receive more than $10 million this season as part of the league's expanded revenue-sharing plan.
All of that is going on behind the scenes. What's going on in the front of the house is a team building off success and getting off to a sizzling start to the season. The Bulls are just the latest team to attest to it.
2. Around The Association
MVP: Kevin Durant might have the more interesting stat line (23 points, 10 assists), it was Westbrook who punished the Mavericks again and again. Dallas had no answer for his athleticism and finishing power in the lane.
X factor: The physicality of rookie Steven Adams surprised the Mavericks. His contribution of six points and seven rebounds kept Dallas at bay with the starting bigs on the bench. He even goaded Vince Carter into a flagrant-2 foul and ejection.
Defining moment: Dallas stayed within 10 for most of the third and the start of the fourth. At the 9:12 mark, Serge Ibaka blocked a DeJuan Blair shot, leading to a transition three for Jeremy Lamb. Dallas never recovered.
Most valuable player: Tony Parker. Parker scored 15 of the Spurs' last 16 points en route to 20 total in holding off the Suns. He shot 9-for-15 and added six assists.
That was twisted: When the Spurs successfully defended a three-point lead on Phoenix's last possession with a San Antonio lineup sans Tim Duncan, it was hard not to think back to Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Defining moment: Boasting a one-point lead with 15.2 seconds left, instead of in-bounding the ball looking to draw a foul, the Spurs managed to free Parker for a layup that gave San Antonio a 99-96 advantage.
MVP: Although Cleveland lost, Kyrie Irving's brilliant fourth quarter left no doubt as to the game's MVP. With apologies to O.J. Mayo (28-2-3 and game-winning defense on Irving's last shot) and Gary Neal (23-1-4), Irving single-handedly went on a 10-point run in 70 seconds that took a double-digit Bucks lead to a near-Cleveland win. He posted a 29-5-8 line on just 20 shots.
X factor: Three-point shooting. Milwaukee shot 56 percent from 3-point range against a permissive Cleveland perimeter defense. Dion Waiters and Irving are improving on that end, but they have a ways to go in committing to quick-trigger gunners beyond the arc. Neal and Mayo combined for 10-for-12 from three.
That was a fantastic ending: Milwaukee looked poised for a blowout win after a hot start to the fourth quarter, and the game was looking like yet another disappointing Cleveland road loss. Credit one of this season's best comebacks for waking the team and showing a bit of fight.
MVP: Klay Thompson. Arguably the Luigi of the Super Splash Brothers, Thompson started out cold but then quickly heated to inferno status, scoring 19 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
X factor: Harrison Barnes. Early on, the Warriors failed to have any semblance of offensive rhythm. Barnes was the lone source of energy (and, most importantly, points) during this early malaise, scoring eight points in the opening frame.
That was scary: Steph Curry and Ricky Rubio got tangled in the third quarter, and Curry came up favoring his ankle after the incident. Luckily, per the injury report, the injury was only a bone bruise, and nothing to do with Curry's ankle. Whew.
MVP: Anthony Davis. He finished the game with 18 points, but it was his defense that dictated everything Memphis did. He was actively fronting players in the post, deflecting passes, switching to cover guards on the perimeter, and blocking shots at the rim. With the way he is playing on that end this season (4 blocks and 2 steals per game), Davis could become the youngest defensive player of the year in league history.
X factor: Jason Smith hit his first four midrange jumpers, which brought Marc Gasol out to the perimeter and opened up the paint for the rest of the Pelicans. Without Ryan Anderson, the Pelicans' spacing has been terrible this season, but Smith's jumpers gave their guards room to operate.
That was interesting. Zach Randolph left the game in the second quarter with the always rare "player won't return tonight due to imminent birth of child." Congrats Z-Bo!
MVP: Despite the loss, Gordon Hayward deserves these honors. Hayward finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists while playing against his former college coach, Brad Stevens. Brandon Bass led the C's with 20 points.
Defining moment: After getting out to a 16-3 lead against the Celtics, the Jazz crumbled and the Celtics executed. For the last 18 minutes of the first half, the Celtics outscored the Jazz 47-18.
That was a win: The Celtics won the battle of the 0-4 teams, getting Stevens his first win in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Jazz are out to their worst start since 1974-75, when they started 0-11.
MVP: In his second matchup with Michael Carter-Williams, the veteran got the better of the rookie. John Wall scored 24 points to go with nine assists, dictated the pace throughout and, for good measure, stoned Thad Young with a highlight-reel block.
LVP: Thaddeus Young, the Sixers' de facto MVP, shredded the Wizards last week, scoring 29 on 14-for-20 shooting to spearhead Philly's comeback win. The sequel, as usual, disappointed. Young was a meager 3-of-11 from the floor, managed just seven points, and posted a game-low plus/minus of -21.
X factor: Washingtons hot start. The visitors raced out of the gate on Wednesday, scoring 21 points in the game's first 4:11 and 39 in the initial period -- the latter a season high -- and never trailed. The Wizards hit six 3-pointers in the period and finished 18-of-33 from deep.
MVP: Nikola Vucevic. Nik went beast mode with 30 points, 21 rebounds and three assists. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin had no answer. This was a low-post seminar.
X factor: Blake Griffin Shooting Jumpers. It was the only the thing that kept the Clippers in this thing. No dunks, no lobs, no uptempo offense. At least Blake was knocking down jump shots.
That was the Magic being taken for granted: Everyone is talking about what a great team the Clippers are, and they are, but the Magic just beat them. Orlando just took one from a great team in November.
MVP: Plenty of candidates for the Pacers, but David West was the quiet anchor for the home team. Eleven of his 17 points, and 10 of his 13 boards came in the second half that the Pacers controlled.
That was to be expected. Neither Indiana nor Chicago has been able to muster a point per possession offensively, and both have physical defensive teams. This was ugly, playoff basketball in the first week of November, despite the finish.
X factor: Luis Scola set up the finish with eight fourth-quarter points, and Lance Stephenson knocked it down. Stephenson scored 12 as the two of them led Indiana to a 34-18 fouth quarter.
MVP: Gerald Henderson. In a game with sputtering offense all around, Henderson's jumpers were a smooth respite. He sank nine of his first 12 shots and finished with 23 points to lead all scorers.
That was once in a blue moon: Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo was whistled for a rare foul during a jump ball. After winning the tap, Biyombo's arm followed through and hit an unsuspecting Jonas Valanciunas squarely in the face.
Defining moment: Twenty-six seconds left in the game. Toronto down by two points. Charlotte has the ball with a full shot clock. And the Raptors chose not to foul. The inexplicable decision scuttled a furious Toronto comeback and assured defeat.
Nikola Vucevic Magic:
The big man who recently turned 23 had 30 points and 21 rebounds to help your upstart Orlando Magic down the Clippers 98-90. It was his fifth 20-point, 20-rebound game of his career.
4. Wednesday's Worst
The Utah Jazz: When the tank-y Celtics can put it on cruise control, then you know winning is going to be tough this season. The Jazz trailed by 25 points in the third quarter and opened the fourth down 22 before making it a 97-87 loss. Will Utah and Denver both still be winless when they clash Nov. 11 in Salt Lake City?
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"It's early. I am not a panicky coach."
-- Mike Woodson, the Knicks coach whose 1-3 team learned Wednesday it will lose the services of Tyson Chandler for at least four weeks.
8. Biggest Bird
9. Stat Check
Klay Thompson scored 19 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to help lead the Warriors to a 106-93 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday night. That tied the most points Thompson has scored in any quarter in his 153-game career during the regular season, equaling the 19 he produced in the third quarter against Detroit on Dec. 5, 2012. Prior to Wednesday, the most points Thompson had ever scored in the fourth quarter of a game was 14 against Denver on Feb. 9, 2012.
10. TrueHoop TV